Invited Speakers

Martina Absinta

Institute of Experimental Neurology, Division of Neuroscience, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and Hospital, Milan (Italy) • Dept of Neurology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore (USA) • Dr. Martina Absinta is a neurologist with an international PhD in Molecular Medicine. She dedicated her work to ultra-high field 7T MRI–human neuropathological correlations in multiple sclerosis, and related identification of novel imaging biomarkers of chronic inflammation (with special focus on microglia-mediated and leptomeningeal inflammation). In the last few years, her work highlighted the clinical relevance of chronic inflammation and chronic active lesions in driving progression in multiple sclerosis and prompted for the planning of novel-designed MRI-based clinical trials aimed at treating such perilesional chronic inflammation. To better understand the immunological mechanism operating at the chronic active lesion edge and new therapeutic targets, she recently built a cellular blueprint of multiple sclerosis lesions using single-nucleus RNA sequencing and identified C1q as critical mediator of microglia activation. Her scientific work has been published in high impact scientific journals, including Nature, Nature Reviews Neurology, JCI, eLife, and JAMA Neurology.

Séverine Boillée

Paris Brain Institute - ICM, INSERM, Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris (France) • Dr Severine BOILLEE was trained as a cell biologist and physiologist and received her PhD degree in Neurosciences, from the Paris XII University studying interactions between motor neurons and glial cells. She then moved to the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) and joined the group of Pr Don W. Cleveland, as a postdoctoral fellow. During her extensive postdoctoral research, she was implicated in defining the concept that motor neurons in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) do not die alone but their death is strongly influenced by interactions with the surrounding glia and immune cells. Dr. Boillee got hired as an assistant professor at the INSERM where she is now a research director/professor leading the Team “ALS causes and mechanisms of motor neuron degeneration” at the Paris Brain Institute – ICM at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital / Sorbonne University, in Paris. Her current research focuses on the pathological interactions of microglial cells and peripheral macrophages with the affected motor neurons. The aim of her research is to dissect the toxic and protective components of these pathological neuro-glia interactions with the goal to define novel molecular pathways that could halt motor neuron degeneration and slow ALS disease progression. Dr. Boillee is a member of the scientific advisory board of the French ALS association (ARSla), of the European ALS association Fondation Thierry Latran, and the Health Sector rare diseases for ALS (FILSLAN). She is also on the editorial board of the journal “Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation”. She received the “NRJ-Fondation de France” prize in 2011 and the “Fabrice Le Mouaher-FRM” Prize in 2022, for her research on ALS.

Michael Khalil

Clinical Department of General Neurology, Medical University of Graz (Austria) • Michael Khalil is a clinical and translational neuroscientist who investigates the pathophysiological mechanisms of neurological diseases, with a focus on body fluid and imaging biomarkers in neuroimmunological and neurodegenerative disorders. He has longstanding expertise in cerebrospinal fluid diagnostics and clinical neurochemistry, and a strong international research network facilitating the development of large multi-centre biomarker discovery and validation studies. Current research in his Unit evaluates the clinical significance of cerebrospinal fluid and blood-based biomarkers using ultra high-sensitive detection techniques in neuroimmunological and neurodegenerative disorders, with a particular focus on multiple sclerosis. The main aim of his Research Unit is to discover and validate body fluid biomarkers for disease progression, different disease phases/stages, and response to disease modifying therapies. Research data are being evaluated and interpreted in strong association with imaging (via conventional and non-conventional MRI at 3T) findings of the central nervous system, and detailed clinical follow-up data. This combined approach shall ultimately serve to define patient subgroups and aid in the development of more effective treatment regimens and drugs.

Richard Morris

Department of Neuroscience, The University of Edinburgh (UK) • Richard Morris is Professor of Neuroscience in Edinburgh and was, until recently, Director of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems. He read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and did his D.Phil at the University of Sussex. His early career included a period helping to build an exhibition at the Natural History Museum and working for BBC Television, before taking up a Lectureship in Scotland. He remains active in University teaching, with his longstanding research interest being the neurobiology of cognition, particularly the role synaptic plasticity in memory formation. A specific focus has been on the automaticity of many aspects of memory formation and, mediating this, the neural mechanisms of memory encoding and memory retention. Beyond the lab, he set up Edinburgh Neuroscience in 2005 jointly with the clinical neurologist Charles Warlow which they directed together for its first 5 years. Outside Edinburgh, he served, by secondment, as Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust from 2007 to 2010, where he helped to set up the new Sainsbury-Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL and the research charity MQ:Transforming Mental Health. He was a co-recipient with two prominent physiologists, Tim Bliss and Graham Collingridge, of the The Brain Prize (Lundbeck Foundation, Copenhagen). He an elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1997, the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999), the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (2007) and of the National Academy of Sciences (USA, 2020). He was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2007.

Claudio Procaccini

Italian National Research Council (CNR), Institute Experimental Endocrinology and Oncology “Gaetano Salvatore” IEOS (Italy) • Dr. Claudio Procaccini is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology and Oncology of the National Research Council in Naples. He received an international PhD in Molecular Pathology at the University “Federico II” in Naples and his research activity during these last few years mainly has concerned the relationship among immune system, metabolism and inflammatory/autoimmune diseases (ie. Multiple Sclerosis, MS or Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitits EAE, Type I diabetes). He contributed to the identification of a novel link between “oscillations” of intracellular energy metabolism regulated by mTOR kinase and the proliferation of regulatory T cells (Treg) (Procaccini et al. Immunity 2010) and effector T cells (Procaccini et al., JI 2012), opening a novel area of investigation that links nutritional status and metabolism to immune responses. The study of intracellular metabolism led Dr. Procaccini to identify the metabolic asset of Treg cells (Procaccini et al., Immunity 2016) in physiological conditions as well as during tumour growth (Pacella et al., PNAS 2018). More recently, he has been interested in the study of the molecular events induced by signal of “metabolic overwork” in Treg cells (Procaccini et al., Immunity 2021) and the effects of caloric restriction on autoimmune disease (EAE) onset and progression. His scientific work has been published in high impact scientific journals (including Immunity, Nature Immunology, Nature Medicine, Nature Metabolism, Cell Metabolism, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, J. Clin. Invest, J Immunol) and has been recognized at national and international level with several awards (ie. “AINI Prize” (2023); “Ricercatamente Prize” as best young researcher under 35 (2015); the 6th Space Import-Export Prize (2008); the “Piernicola Boccuni” Prize (2008); the Space Import-Export Prize (2011) as best young researcher working on a cytokine). From 2022, Dr. Procaccini is a member of the scientific advisory board of the Italian Association of Neuroimmunology (AINI).

Michal Schwartz

Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot (Israel) • Schwartz is Professor of Neuroimmunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. She served as the president of the International Society of Neuroimmunology (2016-2018). Schwartz received her BSc, cum laude, from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and her PhD in Immunology from the Weizmann Institute. She is the world pioneer in breaking the long-held dogma regarding the relationships between the central nervous system and the immune system. She was the first to discover that blood-borne macrophages (Nature Medicine, 1998) and T cells (Nature Medicine, 1999) are needed for central nervous system repair, and the unexpected fundamental role of the immune system in supporting life-long brain functional plasticity and neurogenesis (Nature Neuroscience, 2006), and subsequently suggested that aging of the brain reflects dysfunction of the brain-immune communication (Science, 2014). Overall, the current understanding that immune cells are guardians of the brain, needed for life-long brain maintenance and repair, was intiated by her. Lately she defined the brain together with the immune cells that were discoved at its borders creating an ‘‘ecosystem’’ that supports the brain’s robustness and resilience (Neuron, 20222). Based on the understanding of the brain-immune relationships, she proposed that aging or exhaustion of the immune system plays a key role in perpetuating Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia, and sugggested a novel treatment for AD, which harnesses the immune system to help the brain. This therapy is in advanced stage of development. Her scientific insights had significant impact, reflected in her publications in leading journals and high citation number (H factor 118, Google Scholar), and the number of keynote and named lectures that she was invited to deliver. Schwartz was twice granted an advanced ERC award, as well as receiving numerous prestigious national and international awards for her outstanding achievements, including the 2002 Friedenwald Award from ARVO, for outstanding contribution to vision research and the Distinguished G. Heiner Sell Memorial Lectureship in 2002 for outstanding achievement in the field of spinal cord injury. More recently Schwartz received the Blumberg Prize for Excellence in Medical Science (2015), and the 2017 Rappaport Prize for Excellence in the Field of Biomedical Research. She was chosen in 2019 as Outstanding Mentor of the Year by the Israeli Neuroscience Society. In 2019 Schwartz received the EMET prize, one of the most prestigious Israeli awards for academic and professional achievement, and she received the FENS EJN Award, 2022 for her outstanding contribution to the field of Neuroimmunology. Lately she was announced as the awardee of the Israel Prize in life sciences, 2023. Fifteen of her former graduate students currently hold academic faculty positions in Israel, USA, UK, Europe and Australia. Based on her technology, a clinical trial is currently ongoing by a biopharma, cofounded, which is basically an immunotherapy to defeat Alzheimer’s disease.

Sebastian Sulis Sato

IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino Genova (Italy) • Sebastian Sulis Sato is a neuroscientist with a degree in molecular biology and a PhD in molecular biophysics. During his PhD in Gian Michele Ratto’s lab at Scuola Normale Superiore he developed a methodology to measure the in vivo intracellular chloride concentration using two photon spectroscopy. With his colleagues he measured in vivo in the rat the shift of intracellular chloride concentration occurring during postnatal development causing the shift form excitatory to inhibitory GABA in the brain. In 2015 Sebastian moved to Sweden at Umeå University in Paolo Medini’s lab for his postdoc. Here he studied the multisensory properties of a secondary visual area of the mouse cortex using two photon calcium imaging and electrophysiology techniques. After 4 years he moved to Per Petersson’s lab at Umeå University where he focused on the levodopa-induced dyskinesia in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease using in vivo multi electrodes array technology. In 2022 Sebastian moved to Genova at IRCCS Ospedale San Martino where he is now responsible for the in vivo two photon microscopy facility.

Giuseppe Testa

University of Milan and Human Technopole (Italy) • Giuseppe Testa is Full Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Milan, Head of the Neurogenomics Research Centre at the Human Technopole and Group Leader of the High-Definition Disease Modelling Lab at the European Institute of Oncology, where he also co-founded the interdisciplinary PhD program on Life Sciences, Bioethics and Society (Foundations of the Life Sciences and Their Ethical Consequences, Folatec). A three times European Research Council (ERC) awardee, he holds an MD from the University of Perugia, a PhD from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, an MA in Health Care Ethics and Law from the University of Manchester and has been a fellow in the Program on Science, Technology and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School sponsored by the Branco Weiss Society-in-Science program. His lab spearheads stem cell and organoid-based patient-specific models for neurodevelopmental disorders and cancer, focusing on genetic and environmental causes of chromatin dysregulation as a shared and increasingly relevant layer of pathogenic mechanisms. Starting from densely phenotyped clinical cohorts and integrating multi-layered omics, single cell dynamics and high-end computing, the aim is to advance a foundational framework for precision medicine. Key accomplishments include the development of new genome engineering technologies, the characterization of novel enzymes required for neural development, the first reprogramming-based models of human diseases caused by symmetric gene dosage imbalances, the single cell omics-based mechanistic dissection of human corticogenesis in brain organoids, the identification of the master regulator gene underlying the evolution of the modern human face and the pioneering of mixture-based experimental neurotoxicology. A further unique accomplishment is the successful pursuit of a parallel career as practicing life scientist and scholar in Bioethics and Science and Technology Studies (STS). His STS and bioethics scholarship focuses on the relationship between the life sciences and the evolution of modern democracies. His scientific and bioethics/STS work has appeared in leading peer-reviewed journals. He is the author, with Helga Nowotny, of Naked Genes: Reinventing the Human in the Molecular Age.

Varun Venkataramani

Universität Heidelberg, Neurological Clinic (Germany) • Dr. Varun Venkataramani received his MD and Ph.D. with the highest honors (summa cum laude) from Heidelberg University in 2019 and 2020. Afterwards, he started his junior research group at Heidelberg University Clinic in the Department of Neurology. Dr. Venkataramani is a highly accomplished researcher in the emerging field of Cancer Neuroscience. He is known for his research on the role of neuron-tumor synapses in driving tumor growth and invasion, which has the potential to lead to new therapeutic approaches. He will apply his background in neuroscience and neuro-oncology to characterize the Cancer Neuroscience of brain tumors to understand both the basic science of brain tumor networks, develop novel methodologies to study Cancer Neuroscience and to establish Neuroscience-instructed Cancer Therapies as a novel pillar in oncology. Dr. Venkataramani performed his graduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Kuner, an expert in neuroscience and microscopy. His research was dedicated to developing novel approaches for superresolution and electron microscopy to characterize the organization of F-action in the presynaptic bouton. For this purpose, he developed a novel simulation algorithm for localization microscopy approaches for superresolution that were widely used in the microscopy community to test hypotheses and develop analysis workflows (Venkataramani et al., Nature Methods 2016). Furthermore, based on this work, he established a novel repetitive labeling method for superresolution microscopy allowing to increase both the labeling efficiency as well as the localization precision. During his graduate studies, Dr. Venkataramani's interest in the area of Cancer Neuroscience was sparked while characterizing the ultrastructure of long membranous tube called tumor microtubes. His discovery that presynaptic contacts on glioblastoma cells are formed led to further work showing that these synaptic contacts are functional and unidirectional from presynaptic neurons to postsynaptic glioma cells. He was the lead author and co-corresponding author of a highly collaborative publication in Nature in 2019 that highlighted the role of these malignant synaptic contacts in driving glioblastoma proliferation and invasion which was the main work of his PhD studies. He contributed to further work that strengthened the functional role and molecular mechanisms of multicellular gap junction-coupled tumor-tumor and synaptic and paracrine neuron-tumor networks. Dr. Venkataramani is also known for his work on the neuronal mechanisms that drive glioblastoma invasion. He established a workflow that allowed him to superimpose molecular cell states based on single-cell RNA-sequencing with in vivo two-photon imaging. Through this approach, he uncovered that neuronal-like and neural/oligodendrocyte precursor-like cell states drive glioblastoma invasion, and further characterized the cellular and subcellular neuronal-like invasion mechanisms. He was the lead author and co-corresponding author of a publication in Cell in 2022 that brought together molecular and functional tumor cell states, allowing for deeper insights into the roles of glioblastoma heterogeneity. Overall, Dr. Venkataramani's research has made significant contributions to our understanding of the complex interactions between neurons and tumors, and has the potential to pave the way for new therapeutic strategies in the treatment of brain tumors. During his career, Dr. Venkataramani has presented his work at more than 30 international conferences and has given several lectures to undergraduates, master and Ph.D. students in internal courses and workshops. In addition, he was given multiple awards for his work.

Letizia Zullo

IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino Genova (Italy) • Letizia Zullo is a neuroscientist investigating the neuroethology of motor control and visuo-motor coordination. She has been studying the invertebrate mollusk Octopus vulgaris motor control system from molecular to functional organization, finding the existence of a new paradigm of ‘non somatotopic’ brain-to-body organization. This study highlighted the importance of the use of embodiment as a ‘key’ to the development of the octopus neural organization and cognitive abilities. On this topic, she received her PhD from the Federico II University of Naples in conjunction with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI). At HUJI she developed the very first method to perform brain recordings and micro-stimulation from a live, freely-behaving octopus (Current Biology, 2009). She then joined the HUJI for her Post-Doc during which she specialized in the kinematics and peripheral control of stereotyped motion in octopus. She was then recruited at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Italy, as a Post Doc first and then as Researcher at the department of Neuroscience and Bioinspired Soft-robotics. Here she established an independent laboratory focusing on the study of the octopus arm peripheral sensory-motor integration for bio-robotic applications (Nature Robotics, 2019) and arm regenerative mechanisms. In 2022 she has been visiting professor at the HUJI and in 2023 Letizia was appointed as a sanitary Researcher at the IRCCS Ospedale San Martino, Genova, where she is currently responsible for the research facility of aquatic animals for translational investigations.Throughout her career she has been working with aquatic animals, such as cephalopods (particularly Octopus vulgaris) and zebrafish, representing nowadays emerging models in Neuroscience for their high cognitive abilities and a lower level of nervous system complexity than rodents. She is keen on increasing the awareness on the potentials of these research animals. Her work is supported by EU, USA and National founding, for research in the fields of neuroscience, biorobotics and animal welfare.

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